When local businessman Robert Martin was admitted into hospital with possible COVID-19 symptoms, he felt so sure it was a fuss over nothing that he was joking with staff and taking selfies. But his mood soon changed when the consultant told him he needed to be sedated.
The following two-week induced coma and a recovery lasting months has led Robert to filming an emotional interview where he tells his own story and appeals for everyone to take the threat of the virus seriously.
In the video interview, filmed and released by the Trust, Robert says: “The recovery was for me the most difficult part.
“You wake up and think: I’m all right now. I’ll get up and go home.
“But it as the best part of another week in Intensive Care in Darlington [where Robert had been transferred to], the staff there were just immense.
“I had to learn to walk again. When I got home, I had two Zimmer frames – one for downstairs and one for upstairs. It was just frightening.”
Robert’s recovery included video-consultation physiotherapy sessions which were so successful he was back walking his dog Chloe after four weeks.
Asked for a message to those not taking the threat of the virus seriously enough, Robert commented: “I was taking precautions and trying to keep the people who work for me safe. And I still caught it.
“Take the precautions: wear a mask, wash your hands. If you don’t get, you don’t get it. Fantastic. It’s just not worth the risk.”
Rob Martin: My COVID-19 story
Title card: Robert Marting – “My COVID-19 story”
Robert: I’m Robert Martin from Hutton Rudby near Yarm, managing director of integrated office systems, an office supplies company in Teesside.
Titled card: Had you previously been concerned about COVID-19?
Robert: I hadn’t been concerned about contracting it but we had taken precautions at work.
We’ve sent a lot of people to work from home and we put hand sanitising stations in the office, encouraging people to wash their hands and to wear gloves when accepting deliveries and to wear masks if they’re in meetings in the office.
But I hadn’t been concerned about catching it. I guess like most people it was ‘it’s going to happen to somebody else’, ‘it’s not going to happen to you’.
Title card: Tell us about when you first fell ill.
Robert: When I first felt ill, I was actually parked in the car and I came over and sort of a shiver cold sweat. Actually I’d just stopped parking the car.
The next day I just felt very tired but I convinced myself that I didn’t have Covid. At the time I didn’t have any of, what they were saying back in March, were the main symptoms.
I could take the breath – take a deep breath and hold it and I didn’t have a cough.
But over the following week, I gradually felt worse. I rang the doctor who prescribed me some antibiotics because I still didn’t have the main symptoms of Covid.
And then on the Friday night, ten days after the first took ill, I went to go upstairs. I got upstairs, sat in the bed and couldn’t catch my breath.
And at that point, I knew there something not right.
Title card: Tell us about being admitted into hospital.
Robert: I’m very very lucky. I’ve got a niece who’s a paramedic and she badgered me into calling 111.
The ambulance came to get me very very quickly. Within minutes of me putting the phone down, the ambulance was there and they took my blood oxygen levels. I think were down go 64 or 65 per cent at that point.
But I felt fine other than if I moved I was struggling to catch my breath.
They put me in an ambulance and put me on an oxygen machine and oxygen mask in the ambulance. And at that point, I still thought ‘I’ll be home tomorrow, this is a waste of time, just give me some oxygen and I’ll be fine’.
I was taking selfies and I was putting them on Facebook, I was putting them on WhatsApp groups.
Then I got to the hospital. They put me on the CPAP machine which is a mask that forces oxygen into your lungs when you’re breathing and I was on that for four or five hours.
And the doctors came in, and at that point I was still taking selfies, but the doctor came in and said ‘this isn’t working, I’m going to have to sedate you’.
I said ‘when’ and he said ‘now’. And the doctor who was with him, the anaesthetist, took my arm and started preparing it to sedate me and they put me in an induced coma and I knew no more for more than two weeks.
Title card: What was it like when you woke up?
Robert: It was frightening.
I woke up in Darlington. I’d been admitted to North Tees but they moved me to Darlington because the hospital got so busy and apparently I was one of the most stable patients at that point.
They moved me to Darlington and I woke up and the nurse asked me if I knew my name, which I did fortunately.
They asked me if I knew what day it was and I said ‘no’. She said it’s Saturday. I said I only came in this morning and she said ‘no, it’s the 11th of April, you’ve been in a coma for two weeks’.
And it was just a shock. I’d had some pretty vivid bad dreams whilst being sedated and I woke up very very paranoid and I suppose for the first time a little bit frightened.
Title card: What was your recovery like?
Robert: The recovery was probably the most difficult part because you wake up and you think ‘I’m all right now, I’ll get out of bed and I’ll go home’.
But it was the best part of another week in ICU in Darlignton and the staff there were just immense. Everything was done for you instantly, they were always there.
But then they came and said ‘right, what we need to do is we need to sit you up’.
And I thought ‘well, I’ll just sit up’ but what I didn’t realise is they told me that I would have lost in excess of 40 per cent of muscle mass and it took two people to help me sit up on the edge of the bed.
They put me into a chair. They got me out the bed and into a chair and just sitting up was hard work because the muscles that I suppose you didn’t know you had all deteriorated by 40 per cent.
I had to learn to walk again when I finally got home and they gave me two zimmer frames one for upstairs and one for downstairs.
And it was just frightening because you don’t think it’ll happen to you. You think it’s somebody else.
Title card: What was the impact on your family.
It must have been pretty horrible them. My partner – she had to self-isolate in the house on her own.
My son was already working from home. He wasn’t able to come and see me. My parents are obviously quite elderly and it must be horrendous for them. They didn’t really understand it. Their son’s in hospital and we can’t go and see him, between my family.
And quite rightly so they’re allowed one phone call a day.
The nurses aren’t there as receptionists but one person could ring up once a day, give a password and they’d get an update and then they had to ring around everybody else or text everybody else and tell them how I was doing. And for a while, apparently it was touch and go.
But I was fortunate I was in good hands in North Tees and they had me on clinical trials of drugs. And once they started to give me those, after three or four days I started to improve.
But for a short period of time apparently it was touch and go.
Title card: What would you say to those across Teesside who aren’t taking the threat seriously enough?
Robert: I was taking the precautions and I was trying to keep the people who worked for me safe. And I still got it.
Take the precautions, wear the mask wash your hands. If you don’t get it, you don’t get it – fantastic.
But if you take the precautions and you don’t get it, it may well be because you’ve been taking the precautions.
It’s just not worth the risk. It’s not worth the risk.
Title card: And finally, how are you feeling now?
Robert: Absolutely fine. Again due to the fantastic care received at North Tees and at Darlington.
And also when I got home – the support I got from the physio at North Tees. The weekly online Zoom training sessions to help build up gradually and it probably took me about eight to ten weeks I think, maybe three months to fully recover.
So I’ve got to the point where I’ve got no symptoms. But it’s down to the doctors and nurses and the physios and the porters and everybody at both hospitals and in the health service that I’m fortunate enough to be here today and in pretty good health.
For up-to-date information about COVID-19, please visit the NHS website.